Credit: CSIRO

EXPERT REACTION: CSIRO announces Climate Science Centre

Embargoed until: Publicly released:
CSIRO has today announced the establishment of a national climate research centre, staffed by 40 full time scientists, to be based in Hobart. CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said the CSIRO Climate Science Centre will focus on climate modelling and projections for Australia, drawing on both national and international research expertise. CSIRO says all of its critical measurement infrastructure, such as the ice and air libraries, ARGO float program and Cape Grim, will be guaranteed in the same manner as the other national facilities such as the RVInvestigator, which is also centred in Hobart.

Organisation/s: Australian Science Media Centre


    CSIRO-News-Release-climate-science-centre.docx, 40.8 KB

Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.

John Church is a Professor in the Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales.

The positives from the announcement are the decadal commitment and the formation of a national committee.  

The negatives are that only 40 staff is way below the capability we previously had.  Although a step forward from losing essentially all staff, it will be very difficult for such a small group to be able to deliver meaningful results across the broad range of activities Australia (and the World) requires.  So I do not think it is enough and it still means significant loss of staff – maybe of order 60.  But I do not know the details and maybe it is a base to build from. 
Without knowing all of the details, I doubt that it will undo the reputation damage. Morale will remain low, at least until more details are available.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 8:23pm
Dr Sophie Lewis is a Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer at UNSW Canberra

The newly announced centre seems like a long overdue recognition of the importance of Australia’s climate infrastructure and monitoring programs. But it’s unclear how the proposed 40 scientists in the centre are a win for Australia’s future. This is still a huge reduction in the number of ocean and atmosphere scientists at CSIRO. It’s difficult to envisage how such a large cut in staff levels can maintain monitoring, research capability and deepen existing partnerships. It seems like the culmination of months of consultation and scrutiny is a new name for job cuts.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 8:23pm

Professor Dave Griggs is Professor of Sustainable Development at the Monash Sustainability Institute, Monash University

While the retention of some of CSIRO's climate science capabilities is welcome, the level announced is analogous to trying to put a sticking plaster over a gaping wound.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 8:06pm
Professor Steven Sherwood is ARC Laureate Fellow at the ARC Centre for Climate System Science and UNSW Climate Change Research Centre

A few numbers are helpful to place the current situation in context. Adapting to climate change and forecasting the weather both require advanced weather and climate modelling capacity. CSIRO now uses a system for this provided by the UK Met Office, because (even 5-10 years ago) there were not sufficient resources to keep our own system competitive. There is significant crossover between weather and climate activities, and much work at the Hadley Centre goes toward improving the weather models. The new CSIRO centre will have only 40 scientists, compared to roughly 200 at the equivalent Hadley Centre in the UK, and much less than the 140 scientists previously working in the broader area at CSIRO.

Since the UK GDP is about double that of Australia, this means we are moving from a similar per-capita investment to much lower one. The comparison is not perfect because there are also some research efforts at the Bureau of Meteorology, but on the other hand CSIRO engages in broader activities than the UK Hadley Centre. It is worth noting that the UK Met Office overall is estimated to have generated at least $6 of economic benefit for the UK per $1 spent on it. So, from a broad perspective, we appear to be downsizing an activity that was probably already underfunded even from a purely economic perspective.
Having said that, the new centre may be more focused than the previous activity, and it will have an oversight board. Both of these would be positive developments, but the small size of the new centre would limit what it could achieve for Australia.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 8:05pm
Dr Peter Tangney is a lecturer in environmental politics and policy at Flinders University

Larry Marshall’s proposed restructuring of climate science and associated job losses at CSIRO is, I believe, unfortunate and misguided.

However, this episode should provide a salutary lesson to the scientific community about the political nature of their work on climate change. There is an important difference between science that is useful and interesting in and of itself, versus science that is politically acceptable and therefore usable for policymaking.

The scientific community’s focus on the validity of climate change models, their promotion of the consensus of associated experts and their apocalyptic messages about future climate change risks have been largely ineffectual and will likely continue to be. Their evidence is often difficult to apply to real-world decision-making and their expertise is considered by their conservative opponents to be politicised and therefore lacks authority. More and better climate change monitoring and modelling is not going to resolve this political impasse. Greater emphasis should therefore be placed upon the co-production and co-framing of usable evidence for policymaking between climate scientists and those they seek to influence. This need not compromise the credibility of the available evidence, nor the need for climate change science; however I believe it does require much greater consideration and communication of the climate change problem in terms of the perceived risks, opportunities and associated priorities of conservative government.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 7:06pm
Professor Samantha Hepburn is the research director of the law school at Deakin University in Melbourne and is also the Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resource Law (CENRL).

The announcement today by CSIRO to establish a national climate research centre in Hobart suggests a strong shift in strategic direction.  Following close on the heels of the decision by CSIRO Chief, Dr Larry Marshall, to reduce the climate research division at CSIRO, with approximately 275 climate change scientists and research staff at CSIRO losing their jobs, this new centre comes as a welcome relief. It will, of course, need to facilitate significant external collaboration to ensure success. Viewed from a positive perspective, and without in any way negating the devastating impact of the loss of crucial CSIRO researchers, it is to be hoped that this new initiative will fill what has become a gaping hole in climate change research in Australia. A national climate change centre capable of facilitating strong, collaborative, inter-disciplinary research is  a crucially important move towards understanding and responding more effectively to the enormous imperatives connected with our climate change future.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 6:54pm
Mat Lipson is the Student Representative at the University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre

The announcement this morning of a ‘new’ climate science centre is in reality a cut to the national climate science program. 75 staff from the Oceans and Atmosphere division will still go, and with them capability of national significance that cannot be easily replaced. This chaotic restructuring sends a poisonous message to young Australians considering a career in science: there is still no stable career path in science.
Over 500 people have signed on to a statement by PhD students at the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre calling for national research organisations like CSIRO to be adequately funded, and for the major parties to forge a bipartisan, national, long-term plan for science in Australia. Responses can be viewed here:

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 6:51pm
Professor Clive Hamilton is Professor of Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University

There are many important questions that remain to be answered, such as ‘how many net jobs will be lost?’ and ‘How well will CSIRO be able to maintain and improve its climate science work?’ Is this decision a face-saver after a disastrous mistake, or does it represent a renewed commitment to understanding climate science? Under current CSIRO leadership it is sensible to remain sceptical.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 6:46pm
Professor Andrew Holmes is President of the Australian Academy of Science

We congratulate those responsible for brokering this compromise which will maintain some essential components of the CSIRO’s climate research capacity for at least the next decade.

Australia’s flagship agency has been under significant funding pressures in recent years and this has meant its capacity in key research areas related to the delivery of public good research has been reduced. This diminished capability for science in the national interest should be of concern to all Australians.

The CSIRO is one of the best resources Australia has for research into national problems and the development of local solutions, while also providing respected and valued contributions at regional and global levels. We need a national debate on how to deliver the best science in the interests of the Australian public.

We hope this will form the basis of a more strategic view of climate science in Australia that outlines where and how this can best be developed and applied for Australia’s future.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 6:46pm
Dr Graeme Pearman is a former CSIRO Executive member, former CSIRO Divisional Chief and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at Monash University

If this release is an indication of the directions of the "new" CSIRO, one can only be despondent.

The title about the new Climate Science Centre being a "win" for Australia is totally unsubstantiated by the text that follows. CSIRO has for many years conducted a climate science program that was exemplary in the quality of the science it did, but also in its level of collaboration and partnerships both nationally and internationally. It has focused on "climate measurement and modelling" and on the wider issues of adaptation and mitigation responses and options.

So this "glittery" title, one highly inappropriate for a scientific agency, and the following text is little more than a fraud – a whitewash necessary because of a poorly perceived intention previously announced, one that deservedly received wide national and international condemnation.

But suddenly an apparent reversal of interest in the broader issues of climate science which does little to hide the real intent of the reduction in the research effort in climate science.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 6:14pm
Professor Matthew England is an ARC Laureate Fellow, and co-Director of the University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre

I'm worried about the very small size of the centre - 40 staff is woefully low in number. Equivalent centres overseas house 5-10 times this number: even in nations not nearly as vulnerable to climate change as Australia is. It's great to set up a centre - now we need it to house real capacity: 40 is far too few in number to cover what the centre sets out to achieve. CSIRO management needs to get realistic about what this centre needs, and how important it is for the nation.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 6:01pm
Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, Future Fellow at the Climate Change Research Centre, UNSW on the changing nature of heatwaves.

A National Climate Science Centre is a great initiative and absolutely essential in order to keep a core climate research capacity in Australia. However, the recent announcement by CSIRO is meagre. Only 40 climate scientists will be retained in this centre, with up to 275 jobs across CSIRO, including 70 from Land & Water and 75 from Oceans & Atmosphere, to still be cut. There is no possible way that CSIRO can retain its core climate research and monitoring capacity with only 40 staff, especially when key collaborators from Land & Water will be lost. These numbers are also very similar to those originally announced, it's just now under a different label. While a decade of promised funding is encouraging, it is still certain that the quality climate research undertaken at CSIRO will be seriously compromised. This goes deeper than people losing their jobs – the cutting-edge climate projection tools that underpin Australian adaptation and mitigation to climate change will almost certainly suffer, meaning that all Australians will suffer too. In the last three months CSIRO’s national and international reputation has been undermined, with little chance it will recover anytime soon.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 4:42pm
Professor Rodney Keenan is from the School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences at the University of Melbourne

This is an encouraging change of view from the CSIRO leadership. It provides the opportunity to develop stronger coordination between CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and other climate researchers. The announcement is light on details, but the proposed core effort still seems to be a major reduction in CSIRO capacity, which is a concern for developing a better understanding of the regional climate system. CSIRO needs to continue to focus effort on building partnerships with those who need improved climate information to make better decisions in the highly variable and rapidly changing climate in this region.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 4:27pm
Dr Nerilie Abram is from the Research School of Earth Sciences at The Australian National University

The announcement of a new CSIRO Climate Science Centre with 10 years of secure funding is a welcome one. It recognises the importance of long-term climate measurements and continued climate model development to underpin climate change mitigation efforts. It also goes some way to repairing Australia’s reputation for leading climate science research in the Southern Hemisphere. But, with just 40 positions, the capacity for new and innovative research within this new climate science centre will be limited. Australia’s universities will need to play an increasingly important role in filling that gap.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 4:09pm
Dr Andrew King is Climate Extremes Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, University of Melbourne.

While the opening of a new climate research centre is welcome, overall CSIRO is reducing jobs and research capacity in this field. For early career researchers in particular, climate science remains a less attractive career path due to a lack of job security.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 4:01pm

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